Despite continual claims she acted on “the health advice”, despite her fervid pleas to the NSW public to follow “the health advice”, Gladys Berejiklian has refused to disclose the health advice. However, the NSW Premier has let slip that advice from unnamed business associates of the government has played a part in her handling of the pandemic and the Sydney lockdown. Callum Foote and Michael West investigate.
Can a government follow the pandemic advice from business and still claim to follow the advice of health professionals? Are these two not at odds?
As the pandemic mushrooms across Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian pleads daily at her press conferences that the people of NSW “follow the health advice” as a matter of urgency. It begs the question: what actually is the health advice? And indeed, have Gladys Berejiklian and her government been following the health advice?
Michael West Media has been asking precisely this of the Office of the Premier and the Department of Health for two weeks; what is the health advice upon which Premier Berejiklian is basing her decisions? Gladys Berejiklian’s office, the NSW Ministry of Health, and their battalion of PR officers have been unable to answer these simple questions.
Despite numerous approaches to the Ministry of Health, the Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant and Premier Gladys Berejiklian have refused to disclose whether it was Dr Chant’s advice to put in place the soft lockdown of the four Sydney local government areas, rather than a fully-fledged Greater Sydney lockdown, on June 23 or earlier.
This is critical because many health professionals say an earlier, harder lockdown would have saved NSW from the state it is in now: an indefinite lockdown and a virus spiralling out of control.
It now seems certain that the Premier has not been following “the health advice” alone but also non-health advice, inexpert advice, advice which has put at risk the health of the citizens of NSW. Over the weekend, she let it slip. Asked at the daily press conference on Saturday whether she regretted not calling a lockdown sooner, the Premier responded that she had not been following advice from the business lobby:
“What I know is we have some of the best health experts, and not just health experts, best advisers and contributions from the private sector and business contributing to the New South Wales Government’s ability to make decisions; and I have full confidence in the experts we rely on and they have stood NSW in good stead .”
No longer. NSW is not “in good stead”. As state borders shut around it, daily NSW Covid-19 cases surged into triple figures this week, the crisis intensified by the Federal Government’s botched vaccine roll-out.
Until this latest outbreak, Gladys Berejiklian has been lauded for her handling of the virus but now she has been exposed as out-of-step. Just how out-of-step has she been?
NSW out of step
Responses from Australian governments across the political divide have been more decisive than Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s 10 days stand-off with the highly infectious Delta variant which now has Greater Sydney in indefinite lockdown.
The first case in the present outbreak, which the Government claimed as “Patient Zero” in the Bondi Cluster, “Limousine Man”, first tested positive on June 15. (He denies being patient zero, and the story below indicates his word may be more trustworthy than that of the NSW Government.)
Limousine Man received a confirmation test the following day and was officially recorded in NSW Government’s covid statistics on June 16.
Despite an active case being present in the community, the Premier refused to call a genuine lockdown for Greater Sydney until June 26, 10 days later. By this time, the cluster had grown to 80 cases.
When the Sydney lockdown was eventually called, every State and Territory in Australia, except for the ACT, had enacted a hard border with NSW.
Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia instituted the hard border with NSW on June 23, with the Northern Territory and Victoria calling it the following day.
Moreover, all across the country, confirmed Covid cases, most if not all of which were linked to the Bondi cluster, were met with immediate snap lockdowns.
On June 26 in the Northern Territory, the Granites Gold Mine went into lockdown after a worker tested positive for COVID-19. The following day, Darwin went into a snap lockdown, for at least 48 hours, after more COVID-19 cases were confirmed.
That same day, June 27, Western Australia restrictions were tightened for at least three days in the Perth and Peel regions in WA after a woman tested positive two weeks after she visited a known Covid-19 hotspot in Sydney.
On June 29, one day after recording three cases, Brisbane entered into a three-day lockdown.
South Australia even introduced pre-emptive restrictions for at least seven days, despite not recording any new cases.
Meanwhile, the NSW Ministry of Health has persistently stonewalled efforts by Michael West Media’s to gain access to the health advice given by the Chief Health Officer to Premier Berejiklian. Instead, it has preferred to rely on its relationships with corporate media to drive home its public relations message of competent government, indeed even that the people of NSW are entirely to blame for the spread of the virus.
There has been no mea culpa, no admission that its business-influenced approach to the pandemic has delivered a protracted lockdown, put its citizens at risk and sent thousands of businesses into crisis mode.
Advice given by the chief health officers of other states to their respective premiers is published publicly. Yet the NSW Ministry of Health is refusing to make transparent any advice given to Premier Berejiklian regarding the lockdown.
The Ministry of Health is also yet to respond to questions about apparent flaws with the NSW government’s Covid data.
Callum Foote is a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media. He has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests.